- The Scientist and the Nun: How Sister Nivedita Made Sure J.C. Bose Never Gave Up
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In November, still in her first year in the country, she started a school at her home, 16, Bosepara Lane, for girls from orthodox families, where child marriage was widespread and girls were hardly educated. Man-making to nation-building. Vivekananda died in To her, this was the highest form of nationality, one that did not rely merely on the political view of the nation based on the citizen-state dynamic.
Nivedita wrote profusely on Indian nationhood. She argued that India was a synthesis, and that the story of its analysed fragments, racial, lingual, or political, could never be the story of India. She believed the British were quick to understand the underlying unity of the country and used this knowledge to place it under a common administration, relentlessly attacking the idea that it was the British colonials who had united India.
The Scientist and the Nun: How Sister Nivedita Made Sure J.C. Bose Never Gave Up
The unity which undoubtedly belonged to India was self-born and had its own destiny, its own functions and its own vast powers; but it was the gift of no one. She plunged into a whirlwind of activity, contributing towards myriad aspects of national awakening.
- Manuscript of "Blessings to Nivedita" a poem written by Swami Vivekananda in his own handwriting.
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Her young admirers included revolutionaries as well as budding artists and intellectuals. Though she was not much in agreement with the mild petitionary methods of the Moderates, she maintained close friendships with nationalist workers across the spectrum. In , the cataclysmic partition of Bengal galvanized the national consciousness.
Through her writing and lectures, Nivedita gave full support to the swadeshi campaign, urging people to go all out in swadeshi-sadhana. She was one of the first practitioners of the idea of worship of the nation as mother.
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She passionately advocated the idea of worshipping the nation-mother. She held Hindus and Muslims to be children of the same Mother, and in her writings and speeches, exhorted them to together create the Indian nation of the future. She was possibly the first person to have conceived and designed an emblem and a flag for the Indian nation, way back in She chose the vajra thunderbolt. Nivedita had this design embroidered by the girls of her Calcutta school and it was displayed at an exhibition organized by the Indian National Congress in in Calcutta.
Eminent Indians like J. Art, science and literature. Nivedita was a great champion of the Tata Institute, which would later become the Indian Institute of Science, in Bengaluru. But her more direct contribution was to the career of the pioneering Indian scientist J. She helped him for more than a decade, organizing a steady stream of funds for research, editing and assisting him in the writing of four important books that took his explorations to a world audience, at a time when he faced serious discrimination from the British scientific establishment.
Nivedita played a crucial role in inspiring Indian artists to rediscover the roots of their own artistic traditions at a time when their practice was largely informed by the traditions of the West. In this, her efforts, along with those of E. Havell principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta and Abanindranath Tagore, that led to the flourishing of what came to be known as the Bengal School of Art.
A new generation of young painters grew, and some of the best-known today, like Nandalal Bose, were particularly inspired by her. Nivedita was at the forefront of the movement attacking the then prevalent Western claim that Hellenic art had inspired Indian art, and that there were no real Indian artistic traditions before that.
Nivedita was a prolific writer who published more than half a dozen books in her short lifetime, on themes of Indian history, Indian womanhood, education, nationhood, art and mythology. She also published an astute study of Vivekananda, several booklets, and scores of articles in the Indian as well as British press.
This writing, now available in five volumes titled The Complete Works Of Sister Nivedita, is a rare insight into her brilliant mind. She put her own life in significant peril on several occasions of great calamity, such as during the plague outbreak in Calcutta in and the great East Bengal famine of After her stint in the famine-struck countryside of East Bengal, she contracted a severe form of malaria; it took her months to recover.
She was present at the Calcutta University Hall when Lord Curzon made his convocation speech in Nivedita condemned the speech, which was critical of Indian nationalism. Nivedita was also instrumental in helping to assert the spiritual import of Indian fine arts.
She inspired E. Havell, the principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta, who became the first English art critic to defend Indian art from vulgar attacks by British critics. The great Indian artist Rabindranath Tagore , who turned to the national style of Indian art , was also influenced by Nivedita, as was the famous Bengali artist Nanda Lal Bose. Asked by Vivekananda to improve education for the women of India, Nivedita traveled widely to raise funds for a girls' school.
To both collect money and inform the Western public about India, she left for Europe and America in. Many times rebuffed on her journey, Nivedita returned to India in , the year of Vivekananda's death. Feeling that she should not confine herself to the Ramakrishna Order, which had been started by Vivekananda, she decided to focus on his idea of nation-making.
She traveled to different parts of India to obtain knowledge of the people and to propagate his views. In Bombay, where she spoke on "The Unity of Asia" and "Hindu Mind in Modern Science," she was applauded when she concluded: "European science" can "now observe with the utmost accuracy the laws governing molecular physics. In her lecture tours throughout India in , Nivedita addressed youths on nationalism. She gave to the revolutionaries' center in Calcutta the library she had amassed of books on nationalist movements in various countries.
While in Baroda in western India, she looked into Aurobindo Ghosh's revolutionary work at close quarters. She suggested that Aurobindo, whom she admired, should shift his activities out of the reach of the British-Indian police, and it seems that Aurobindo went to the French territory in the south of India in order to do so.
Politics and Nation
She was also familiar with the work of Sarala Devi , the Holy Mother of the Ramakrishna Order, who forged a link between the Bengali and Punjabi revolutionary groups. Meanwhile Nivedita did not forget her original goal of advancing the cause of women's education. Vivekananda had encouraged Nivedita to produce great women to match the values of the modern world: "Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination and above all, the Celtic blood make you just the woman wanted. This school for girls was able to group together, with their parents' consent, children from such widely different castes as Brahmin, Kayastha, and Gowala.
To encourage boys' education as well, Nivedita sent some young men to Japan, England, and America where they were trained in pharmaceutical goods, glass-blowing, and the handling of metals. When they returned to India, she helped them to establish their own businesses, for she wanted to have dealers in the marketplace who used modern tools and machines.
By , Sister Nivedita was vigorously associated with many aspects of Indian public life. When floods and famine struck East Bengal that year, she consoled the weak, addressed women's meetings, and preached the use of Swadeshi goods and the boycott of British ones. She stressed the need to take to Charkha spinning wheel to make clothes and other useful crafts; regarding peasants, she remarked that those who paid the revenues should have the right to control the expenditures.
Nivedita aligned herself to the ancient Hindu philosophy and saw the Bhagavad Gita a long poem composed by Brahmins as an authoritative pronouncement on the Hindu society. She believed that the Gita was specially written for the benefit of women and the working classes, who, as destitute of classical learning, had little chance of studying these great scriptures. She placed high honor on the status of women, advocating that where women are honored gods are pleased; felt that the Laws of Manu were for domestic happiness; and subscribed to the proverb, "Thou shall not strike a woman, even with a flower.
Between and , Nivedita took two trips to America and England. In —08, she again became a part of high society in London. Intending to found a pro-Indian information center there, she explained in her journalistic writings at the time that the British policies toward Calcutta politicians were unduly harsh. She was in close contact with the publicist and poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, husband of Anne Blunt , who urged England's withdrawal from Indian affairs, and discussed the Indian freedom issue with British labor leader Keir Hardie.
Meanwhile, the British government in India passed the Newspaper Act which suppressed all the nationalist papers. After an absence of 15 years, she visited Ireland, noting the same longing for liberty. She then arrived in America where she served as a journalist and as a mother figure to many Hindu youths living abroad. Upon her return, India was in turmoil; even the Balur Monastery was regularly watched by the British government police. Although failing in health, a confident Nivedita declared, "Mother India will know victory.
Bengal gave her a national funeral, Calcutta offered her memorial tributes at the Town Hall, and her ashes were distributed to many places. Sister Nivedita arrived in India at a time when Vivekananda was pointing the country in new directions, and she added to this movement toward social and political emancipation. She became a "sister to all Indians" while at the same time forging a link with the West. Like Vivekananda, Nivedita believed that India should borrow relevant aspects of education and science from the West but remain committed to its ancient ethical and religious values.
She preserved much of her thinking in print and her works include an account and study of Vivekananda's life entitled The Master As I Saw Him. Raymond, Lizelle. The Dedicated: A Biography of Nivedita. NY: John Day , Datta, Bhupendra Nath. Calcutta: Nababharat,